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'Scary' virus spreading at unusual time

RSV can send some infants to the hospital, and there's not a tremendously effective treatment or cure.

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio doctors say the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is spreading quickly, at a time of year when it's not cropped up before. 

For most adults, RSV symptoms mimic a head cold. But infants' immune systems cannot stop the virus from entering the lower respiratory system. 

Some babies will develop Bronchiolitis after catching RSV. The condition mimics pneumonia, effectively clogging the lungs with mucus. 

"The illness usually just has to run its course," UT Health San Antonio Dr. Tess Barton said, noting most respiratory viruses are not treated easily. 

"The wheezing, watching him breathe—it's really scary," Lianne Thomas said. 

Doctors diagnosed her 2-year-old son with RSV weeks ago. Since then, he's also caught COVID-19. 

"You're sitting there watching him and you can see that they're suffering and in pain and there's really nothing you can do," she said. "You can tell he's just not his normal self." 

"In older kids and even adults, this would just be your typical cold virus," said Dr. Korina DeLeon, of the Children's Hospital of San Antonio's northwest campus. "But in younger kids, where their immune system is not as strong to fight this off, this could turn more serious for them."  

Typically, RSV spreads in the late fall and winter. But the virus practically disappeared in 2020, since the same precautions that stifle COVID-19 also stifle RSV. 

Doctors say it's possible children did not have the opportunity to build immunity to the virus in the winter, but it's not clear why the summer heat hasn't killed the virus off. 

"That's kind of the mystery," Barton said. "I think we could have anticipated we would see more viruses once people started removing their masks and going on about their lives, but I don't think we would have anticipated that we'd see this particular virus." 

It's not clear if RSV will run its course during the summer, or pop up again in the fall. 

Barton says concerned parents should consider limiting their infants' exposure to other children. 

DeLeon says Tylenol can help reduce pain in some children, a saline solution can clear the sinuses, and a cool-mist humidifier can break mucus clogs up.

The state has approved a semi-effective antibody treatment for children born prematurely or with other serious health conditions. It's normally only available to those infants during the fall, but Texas is allowing doctors to administer the shot in the summer this year.